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Reader comment on item: Resisting Islamic Law
in response to reader comment: Mohamed: Your Article 6 trumps the Koran

Submitted by jonn (United Kingdom), Apr 5, 2008 at 11:25

The woman's testimony is equal to the man's testimony except in one case only, the financial transactions. This is according to 2:282;

[ 2:282] O you who believe, when you transact a loan for any period, you shall write it down. An impartial scribe shall do the writing. ........ Two men shall serve as witnesses; if not two men, then a man and two women whose testimony is acceptable to all. Thus, if one woman becomes biased, the other will remind her. It is the obligation of the witnesses to testify when called upon to do so. ......


Islam is a message for all places and all times. While many of us who read and write on the Internet live in highly urbanized societies, where the majority of women work outside the home and are constantly involved in commercial and legal transactions, the majority of women in the world, even today, do not live this way; in the past, very few did. They spend their time at home, with their families, and have very little to do with law and commerce. Even if they fish or farm, they do not usually take part in complex legal transactions with strangers.

Women also live in intermediate conditions. My mother, a distinguished American professor of anthropology, an author, and a leader in her academic field, nevertheless had little to do with managing money. She earned and spent it, but my father (also a professor) made most decisions about major purchases, borrowing money, credit cards, etc. He kept the family accounts and did the income taxes. This was an understood division of labor -- they were both happy with it. After he died, she was at a loss about finances. Even paying bills was a trial to her; she had been married for forty-eight years.

Even in American today, studies show that husbands make the majority of decisions about major purchases: homes, cars, large appliances, vacations, etc.

My point is that Islam is a religion for all places, times, and people. While many modern Western women are used to participating in commercial and legal transactions, the majority of women worldwide, now and in the past, are not. Because Islam is for all times and places, it prescribes that if women are legal witnesses to commercial transactions, two of them must replace one male witness, so that they can remind each other if either of them is later confused.

There is another benefit to this. Not all women want to be part of the commercial world. Now, and in the past, many women prefer to leave legal matters to men. This rule makes it clear that women are allowed to witness financial transactions, but not required to do it. We have a choice.

By the way, in other types of legal situations, for example, criminal investigations, a woman's testimony is equal to that of a man.

In fact, there is a situation in which a wife's testimony always has more weight than her husband's. If he is accusing her of adultery, and she swears she is innocent, the judge will accept her testimony over his, and end the marriage, so that she will not have to live with a man who accused her falsely.

The hadith you cite was from a speech Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) made to a group of women after the Feast Prayer, at a time when the nascent Muslim community was under continual military attack. Since there was no system of taxation, the only way Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) could obtain money for defense of the community was through donations. He was speaking to a group of women who, so far, had contributed little to the cost of their own defense. The word translated as "intelligence" implies knowledge, experience, and the use of logic. The women he was addressing certainly had little knowledge and experience of life outside their own families, and he was exhorting them to take an interest in affairs with which they had previously not had to concern themselves.

The fact that Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) did not mean that women were naturally devoid of intelligence is proven by the fact that he chose his young wife Aisha to be the pre-eminent scholar of Islam after his death, saying to the community, "Take half of what you know of me from her." (The other half would come from the other Muslims, male and female.) For the rest of her life, Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was the scholar to which the leaders of the Muslim community turned when they had a dispute which they could not resolve themselves. She had a prodigious memory; she memorized the Holy Qur'an, and only one man transmitted more hadith than she did. (She also led an army, but that's another story.)

As for the deficiency in religion, it refers to the fact that women do not offer salat, the formal Muslim prayer, during menstruation. It does not mean that women are less pious, less knowledgeable, or less reliable than men. It only means that, because they miss some of the salat, they do not get credit for the same acts of worship that do men, who must offer salat five times every day of their lives. Prophet Muha

However, Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) said that women had other natural advantages in religion. For example, he said that, "Heaven lies at the feet of mothers." There is no equivalent promise related to fathers.

Islam frowns on divorce. It is easy for a Muslim to get married and difficult for one to divorce. Divorce, when initiated by the husband, takes at least four months, and he has to live in the house with his wife and support her until it is final. The effect of this is that usually the husband changes his mind, and cancels the divorce.

When a woman initiates a divorce, she goes to a judge. The whole thing can be settled in five minutes. She does not have to wait a single day, much less a third of a year.

Most Muslims take divorce very seriously. Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) never divorced anyone, and strongly discouraged divorce. Muslims are supposed to stay married for life, and there is an understanding that people who actually do get divorced are either lacking in patience and commitment or have something more seriously wrong with them.

There are Muslims in every country and culture in the world, and cultural attitudes vary widely. In the Arab community, of which I am a part, there is no particular onus on a woman who has initiated a divorce. In fact, people tend to take the attitude that she must have been sorely tried. The attitude in other cultures may be different, but, at any rate, are then related to local culture and not the religion itself.

When a divorce is registered with a Muslim judge, he decides, as a secular Western judge would, where the children would be better cared for. Usually children stay with their mother while small. Boys often go to live with their fathers some time between the ages of seven and twelve. Girls may go at the same age, at maturity (say, eighteen), or never. If one parent has remarried, judges tend to put children in the custody of the other. If an older child has a preference, the judge will consider it. Wherever the child is living, the father has to support it, even if he is poor and the mother is wealthy. Men are absolutely responsible for the support of their families; whatever a woman contributes to the support of the family is a charitable donation, for which she will receive a divine reward.

The non-custodial parent, unless guilty of some major crime, always has the right to have the child visit regularly, for example, on the weekend and holidays, and in the summer.

It is true that Islam frowns on divorce. Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) taught that divorce is the allowed action most disliked by God, and most celebrated by Satan. Nevertheless, in a situation where the husband and wife are miserable together, Islam allows divorce as the last step in a long series of steps that should be followed to resolve the problems amicably.

I hope this information has clarified the situation for you.



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